I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. I am no longer sure of myself, and the paintings appear in a dream. ~Vincent van Gogh
I went to the Art Institute in Chicago today, a place I have only visited once previously and that was more than 20 years ago. It may have been before my kids were born so that would put my last visit somewhere in the mid to early 1980s. I initially planned to head over to the Field Museum of Natural History because history is more appealing to me than looking at a bunch of paintings. When I learned that a Genghis Kahn exhibit will be at the Field Museum in the near future, I decided to forego the tour of natural history for a tour of art.
After I got over the initial shock of having to pay $18 to enter the institute, I headed on up to see the pictures of the Renaissance era. The last time I was here those many years ago that wing was closed so I never had a chance to see some of the finest works ever created by man. Instead, I was underwhelmed by the modernists who created things that I could never conceive of passing off as an artistic creation. A drop cloth, yes. Art, not even close.
To my surprise, some of my favorite paintings were the surrealistic creations. I say surprise because I have seen a couple of works by Picasso and always thought, Huh?. Surrealism puts a bizarre twist on reality in my eyes, the eyes of an Engineer that tends to perceive the world in more realistic ways. My world is filled with straight lines, clean angles, symmetry, gentle curves, animals that look like animals, plants that look like plants, people that look like people. The works done by the likes of Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, and others put a very different spin on the natural world. I could see putting a few of the paintings in my living room and actually enjoying contemplating them for hours on end.I was impressed by the impressionism and pointillism and the realism. I came across the van Gogh paintings and enjoyed seeing some of his works that I had seen on a recent episode of Dr. Who. I was never really familiar with his work until the Doctor happened upon Vincent and I saw a few of his paintings including his self portrait and his bedroom
I took the obligatory walk through the modern art section and caught myself laughing out loud at more than one of the ‘works of art’. Most of it I would not call art for it looked like more like mistakes one does when creating. One exhibit was two equal sized rectangles with the upper rectangle painted yellow, the bottom black. It was such a piece of garbage that I would not even waste a picture on it though it would cost me no more than a few bytes in a memory card which could be deleted at my leisure. They were two separate paintings stacked one upon the other. A replica of the exhibit was being sold in the museum store for $350 including frame. One could easily go to a local art store but a couple of $3 canvases and a couple tubes of $1 paint and create the exact same ‘painting’. Why people would pay that much money for something my grandson could slap together in a couple of hours is beyond me. All I can assume is that they appeal to the snob factor and hope to impress their friends with their fine ‘taste’ by owning some modern ‘art’.
Other highlights included wooden desks with intricate inlays that, for me, is far greater art than any arrangement of ink brushed on to canvas. But, in that respect, I am biased because my father was a woodworker and I, too, have dabbled in crafting functional art of wood with an eye to aesthetics. Truth be told, the Engineer in me is also drawn to functionality in creations and prizes beautiful functionality over beautiful solely for viewing.
There was a hall of statues, busts of ancient Greeks and Romans, statutes of the Hindu gods, some frightening to behold, Japanese and Chinese art as manifest in paint, ink, ceramic on canvas, paper and bowls. Native American art as shown in their clothing and headdresses, African art which contained many masks, European art in the form of armor worn by knights and their horses. Many of the these artifacts I would have expected to see in the Museum of Natural History rather than an institute of art. But, I guess, the line is blurred when historical treasures are crafted with intricate beauty by a skilled artisan.
I missed the section that contained photographic art, the capturing of everyday subjects on film in a way the creates awe in the observer. Photography was a hobby in my younger days so I understand the effort required to find a subject, to lug the equipment to the precise location at the optimal time to capture the perfect angle of the sun for a landscape shot. I understand the creativity that goes into the composition, lighting, and exposure of an exquisite photograph. I landed a some good photos in my day and sold a few but was never good enough to make a living with photography. I will to return in the near future to the Art Institute to see the photographs of artists with greater skill than I was able to muster but I will make sure I save the $18 and visit on the free Wednesday for my next splash of culture.